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Mullan, N. (2000). On Feldman's ‘Some Views On The Manifestation Of The Death Instinct In Clinical Work’. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(5):1007.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(5):1007

On Feldman's ‘Some Views On The Manifestation Of The Death Instinct In Clinical Work’

Nancy Mullan

Dear Sir

I am writing regarding Michael Feldman's article, ‘Some views on the manifestation of the death instinct in clinical work’ (IJP, 81:53-65). The controversy regarding whether or not there inheres in the human an ‘instinct’ which impels the organism towards either life or death is not likely to be settled quickly. Psychoanalysts cannot agree among themselves, let alone with ethologists, on its presence or definition. But there are reasons to suppose that the apprehension of such a phenomenon has been accurate. Millennia-old traditions upon which important and useful systems of therapeutics are based, such as the theory of Dualistic Monism, assert that the energy which enlivens us, alternately called chi, ki or qi, has a positive and a negative expression. These positive and negative expressions are constantly converting into one another. In this theory, significant imbalance in the divergent possibilities is sickness.

Kleinians have always found the concepts of life and death instincts useful. They have served to organise clinical impressions and as a shorthand reference to indicate the transcendent inclination in a patient either consistently or at a particular moment. The poles on the continuum between the inclination towards life or towards death can be seen as corresponding to the poles on the continuum between order and entropy, the latter divergence being known to exist in material entities. So it seems reasonable to retain the use of the language and the concepts.

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